Rickshaw Run – The Beginning

by Mike Still
Rickshaw Run – The Beginning

8 and a half hours before the Rickshaw Run began I met my final teammate, Tristan and just 2 days before driving across the Indian subcontinent I met Ben, Sara and Chris when they arrived in Jaisalmer with my friend Joe.  Everyone knows one or more person and we’ll be spending the next 2 weeks living on rickshaws as we drive close to 3000km across India on the biggest adventure that any of us has ever undertaken.

I’ve had a few weeks to acclimate to India with the Holi festival in Mathura, touristy Taj Mahal and a stop over in Jaipur before a “Real Desert Man Camel Safari” but that all pales in comparison to today; our first day on the road.

A HUGE thank you to everyone who donated to Cool Earth for our team, Afternoon Delight got a special video thank you during the Q&A as a result of all your kindness!  (Also way to go Joe Gray for personally raising over $1500 USD) Now, before telling you about our breakdowns, cow kissing and the oppressive heat let me fill you in on the last few days spent preparing for this adventure.

Rickshaw Run Pre-race Preparation

Buy spare parts & Supplies

Since I arrived early I was able to gather a lot of the spare parts and supplies we needed.  I went to mechanic talk by the Adventurists and he recommend a bunch of items plus we added a few of our own.  If you’re reading this and planning on doing the Rickshaw Run next race then you might be interested in our list and prices found in Jaisalmer.

  • 2T Oil – 100 INR ($1.50)
  • 30 mL measuring Cup – 50 INR ($.80)
  • 10L Jerrycan – 100 INR ($1.50)
  • Fuel Filters – 80 INR ($1.20)
  • Spark Plugs – 60 INR ($.90)
  • .5kg Rope – 170 INR ($2.60)
  • knife – 90 INR ($1.35)
  • Permanent Marker – 20 INR ($.30)
  • Zip Ties (Indians call these Cable Tighters) – 10 INR ($.15)


Buy driving clothes

After everyone arrived we headed to the market to buy some local long sleeve and long pant clothes for the party later that night and as a driving outfit.  This was a great bonding experience where everyone got a chance to actually hang out and meet each other.  Plus we all bought nifty hats!

Test Drive

Test driving is a MUST even if you do it at 9:30pm when the palace is already closed because you flew in from Australia SUPER late.  I had a lot of fun learning to drive the Rickshaw and even though I forgot to fill my gas tank and had to push it out of the sand a few times these were good learning experiences for what was to come down the road.

The most epic kickoff party I’ve ever seen!

I’ve been to a few great parties in my day and this one was positively epic.  We are talking Superman + Indiana Jones, the ginger-est sultan you’ve ever met, a pirate AND steampunk brigade, fireworks and a pool party.  Oh yeah and this is all at the KING’s palace, a dude who has a private penthouse for special occasions.

Team Planning Meeting

We gathered for lunch at a rooftop restaurant in the Jaisalmer fort and hammered out our team rules, discussed finances and looked at the map.  It was quite productive even though the only rule we came up with is “don’t be a dick” we are going to drive “south.” 

Well that’s basically how I got to know my team and then suddenly we were driving Morning Glory and Afternoon Delight into the Rajasthani desert!  We split the driving into shifts and all got a whirl early on.  It was pretty obvious that Afternoon Delight had a heartier engine and within a few kilometers we realized that 4th gear wouldn’t work.  At the first gas station 5 km from Jaisalmer we asked around and everyone else had a working 4th gear so Tristan and I took the Rickshaw to a local mechanic while they sorted out our oil & petrol.

It took longer for us to find him than he worked on the engine but we happily paid him his $6 asking price for the labor.  I think he was expecting us to haggle because once I paid him he jumped back under the hood and did a little more work then took her for a test drive before we were on the road and cruising steadily at 40 km/h  Morning Glory was still struggling to push past 50km/h when going downhill but at least the engine wasn’t going to overheat in 3rd gear.

Over the next few hours we got numerous updates from the 80 other Rickshaws with everything from hitting a goat to broken pistons and carburetors so it sounded like chugging along a little slower was pretty good.  Afternoon Delight on the other hand could push up to 60km/h  (and I’m excited to give her a spin tomorrow!)

Every single Indian that we passed was curious and many took out their phones.  When a family of 8 piled into one car and had their phone out recording I jumped up on the side (just like Joe in the photo) to record them back.  My hat instantly flew off in the wind but the car stopped and grabbed it for me!

I thanked Raj and his wonderful family for saving my hat and he insisted that I ride with them for a while.  Air conditioning and a chance to meet some locals?  Yes please!  I told me team to meet me down the road 10 km or so and jumped in.  The car quickly pulled ahead reaching 90-100 km/h and we passed 5 or 6 other rickshaws.  I rolled the window down and enjoyed some incredibly surprised faces as we passed.

Raj was also traveling from Jaisalmer and happened to be heading back home to Ahmedabad.  He was the only English speaker among his family but smiles were had by everyone as we talked a little bit about the USA and India.  They were impressed to hear I was a teacher and told me of their nieces and nephews living stateside.  He invited me and my whole team to his house and to tour Ahmedabad in his car for free if we were passing that way.  I kindly thanked him again and we exchanged phone numbers but I insisted that I needed to be dropped off at the next town to wait for my team.  We found 2 broken down Rickshaws waiting for a mechanic and Raj happily jumped in to translate for the teams showing the Indian kindness that too often gets overshadowed by some of India’s darker clouds.

The deserts here are intensely hot and unforgiving.  There are long stretches of sandy, gravely highway with massive buses and trucks blaring past.  Cows and goats roam the roads along with every other vehicle you can imagine.

Our first real breakdown came while Tristan was driving.  One minute we were cruising along and the next no matter what he did Morning Glory’s engine wouldn’t rev.  Sara and I hadn’t fully noticed until we pulled over to the side of the road.  “Is everything okay?  I asked to which I got a quick Aussie “No.” and a few worried glances.  We opened the back door to the engine and immediately saw the problem.  The tube connecting the air filter to the engine was disconnected.  I remembered the mechanic showing me how to take it off if you flood the engine and it was simply attached with a zip tie.  Grabbing our toolkit I was able to reattach the tube in just a few minutes and we were off again!  An easy fix compared to the 2 teams we saw towing another Rickshaw or those who had to put it on a flatbed and bring it to a mechanic on day 1.

By now it was nearing 3pm and well over 100F.  We discussed once 4pm came looking for a place to sleep and a few dozen km up the road was a town called Barmer that we heard a few other Rickshaw Runners were holing up in.  If we were lucky we could make it in another hour or so.  I took the wheel of Morning Glory one more time and aimed to drive the rest of the way.  Dodging cows and goats we got hundreds of curious looks and a few 30kmh high fives from kids walking along the street.

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The road switched between asphalt and sandy gravel but generally the highway driving was easy going, as long as goats didn’t wander into the road.  Going through small towns was tougher and we started to notice Morning Glory’s transmission acting funny in 2nd & 3rd gear.  It felt like it was slipping out of gear into neutral every few seconds but it could have been caused by anything.   We agreed to try and stick to 4th gear and look for a mechanic tonight when suddenly the engine died again.  One second we were cruising along and the next full throttle put us at a standstill.

We all guessed (and hoped) that we simply ran out of gas.  They said we could probably get 100-150 km out of a full tank and Barmer is 150km fro Jaisalmer.  We mixed the petrol and oil, got out or make shift funnel and refueled Morning Glory and voila she was alive again!

As Afternoon Delight was getting topped off a cow wandered over to Morning Glory.  Naturally Ben seized the opportunity to kiss a bovine.  The rest of the drive to Barmer was pretty uneventful so that means its time for me to go to sleep so we can get up and drive at 6:30am tomorrow, stay tuned for more!

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Disclaimer:  This article contains affiliate links. Clicking them will help me keep traveling at no extra cost to you.  This post was sponsored but the views expressed here are my own and the information is accurate as of March 2017.

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Mike Still
Mike is a travel enthusiast, photographer and teacher. He loves adventure travel, meeting the locals and exploring new culture. As an outdoor enthusiast you can often find him hiking mountains or exploring forests trying to capture the beauty of mother nature. In 2013 he founded www.LiveTravelTeach.com as he left his home in America and has been teaching or traveling around the world ever since!

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Ryan Biddulph September 4, 2017 - 3:42 am

Awesome Mike! I give you guys credit. Just traveling thru Southern India by bus was challenging enough. Doing a tuk tuk run is immensely challenging because even though it is orderly chaos thru Indian eyes, to Western eyes, India can be a wee bit hectic LOL. Doing the Rickshaw Run in such an environment must have been nuts and so much fun too.


Mike Still September 7, 2017 - 11:13 pm

Ryan, it was the biggest challenge of my life and so worth it! I had to learn a whole new set of road rules to keep us safe. We started to understand the order in all that chaos but by no means got used to it.


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